Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is a short novel about how a shepherd boy lived out his destiny and fulfilled his dreams.
The book is divided into three parts; the first part introduces readers to Santiago, a young man who leaves the comforts of a seminary and the world of books and classrooms in order to travel. Santiago buys a herd of sheep and travels the Andalusian countryside, meeting different people and discovering different roads along the way. Having travelled two years with his herd, he is just about to quit his nomadic life for the sake of a girl, when he has a recurring dream of finding buried treasure near the pyramids of Egypt. Curious as to the meaning of his dream, he first consults a gypsy woman, then later an alleged king, who both tell him that indeed, there is treasure waiting for him in Egypt. They encourage Santiago to read the omens which will lead him closer to his dream, for dreams are the language of the world, and when one dreams of something, and everything in the universe works together in order to fulfill that person’s dreams.
The second part of the book follows Santiago from Andalusia across the sea to Africa in the first leg of his adventure to make his dreams come true. Though omens abound, unfortunately for Santiago, fulfilling his dreams wasn’t going to be as easy as it seemed. He gets waylaid for some time and even loses sight of his goal, missing his familiar life and surroundings, and afraid to venture off into new, uncharted territories. As he struggles toward Egypt and his dream, he meets many different people and learns many things along the way – including a crystal merchant who teaches him perseverance; a British explorer who he travels with through the desert, teaching him to listen to the world around him; an alchemist who teaches him to understand the language of the world, and to listen to his heart; and the love of his life, in an oasis in the middle of nowhere.
During his travels, Santiago meets different people with different dreams and different ways of answering them – some rush to fulfill their dreams, while others put them off intentionally, regarding them as their motivations in life. This inspirational, New-Age type novel is about listening to one’s heart and identifying one’s destiny. It encourages people not to lose sight of their dreams despite time, obstacles, and the banality of everyday life; to travel and explore the world while they can, and to grab opportunities that will lead them closer to their dreams.
I first read this book about 8 years ago, and on a whim, I read it again last week. Who’s to say that I actually understood it this time around…I may never really, fully understand it. The Alchemist is full of little inspirational life lessons, but I think what I really learned from it is that you shouldn’t feel guilty for having a seemingly ambitious dream, and you shouldn’t use real life as an excuse to not fulfill it. You should travel while you’re young and learn about life through experience and through other people, and to not be afraid to leave home or familiar surroundings, because, your home will always be waiting for you – and though it may take you years to fulfill your dream, it’s not the actual goal that is important, but the journey, the people you meet, and the experience and knowledge you gain along the way that is actually more important – that having a rich life is not marked by a dream fulfilled, but by a destiny fully lived out.
The Alchemist (1988) – Paulo Coelho
Personal rating: 4/5